SpaceX is at a peak for its spacecraft spacecraft development program, but according to CEO Elon Musk, it is already planning to replicate its recent success with an unplanned experiment on early reusability. Earlier this week SpaceX flew the SN15 (i.e. 15th prototype) of its spacecraft from its development site near Brownsville, Texas, and managed to land it upright for the first time. Now, Musk says they could fly the same prototype a second time, a first for Starship testing and development.
The successful launch and landing on Wednesday included an ascent to about 30,000 feet, with the 150-foot-tall spacecraft tipping on its “belly” and then climbing back to Earth, returning vertically and firing its engines to slow the descent and standing gently sit up straight. These atmospheric tests are an important step in proving the technologies and systems that will later help Starship return to Earth after launching into orbit. The full Starship launch system is said to be fully reusable, including this vehicle (which will eventually serve as the upper tier) and the Super Heavy booster, which the company is also developing.
A second test flight of SN15 is an interesting option among the options for the prototype. SpaceX will of course do a number of other checkouts and collect as much data from the vehicle as possible, in addition to the data collected by the sensors on board. However, the options for the vehicle after that were essentially stress testing to failure or disassembling and studying the pieces. A second attempt at flight is an interesting additional option that could provide SpaceX with a lot of valuable data on the planned reuse of the production version of Starship.
Whether or not the SpaceX SN15 will actually fly again is still open, but if technically possible it seems like a great learning opportunity for SpaceX that could help speed up the entire development program.